A Cloverdale woman wants the City of Surrey to revise the definition of secondary suites when it comes to housing family members who aren't paying rent.
Kim Carron has prepared a room downstairs in her home for her 69-year-old blind father-in-law, but now the city is charging her for having a secondary suite because the room contains a stove.
"I don't understand what the big deal is about having a secondary stove just because it's in a different part of the house," she said. "I just don't think that that's fair. I think that there's got to be more to defining a suite."
Carron received a notice several weeks ago saying she owed money on the room that her father-in-law hasn't even moved into yet. She called the city several times and received numerous interpretations of what defined a suite.
At first, she was told having kitchen cupboards or a fridge in the room would make it a suite, but they later narrowed it down to any device that is capable of cooking food.
"When I envision a suite, I envision that it's separated from the rest of the home and somebody other than family lives there and you're receiving money from them using that space," she said.
The list of cooking appliances that can turn a room into a secondary suite includes counter-top, gas or electric ranges or stoves, counter-top cooking units, hot plates, wall ovens, convection ovens, microwaves, toasters, electric frying pans, electric woks, pressure cookers and crock pots.
"Are you kidding me? A microwave?" Carron recalled asking a city worker over the phone.
Carron said she is frustrated that the situation has come down to the removal of a stove, especially because having a stove downstairs would help her father-in-law feel independent. They purposely bought an older stove with knobs and buttons because his blindness doesn't allow him to use their touch-sensitive stove in the kitchen.
"They don't care if it's family," she said of the city. "They don't care if it's your 18-year-old kid going to university and you've let him live downstairs - if he has a microwave, it's a suite.
"Quite frankly, I'm paying for the electricity, so I don't understand why there is no process for exceptions to the rule. It's very black and white."
The city currently charges a $247 secondary-suite service fee and a $141 garbage service fee for both metered and non-metered customers. Metered customers pay for water and sewer services based on consumption while non-metered customers pay a flat rate of $264 for water and $439 for sewer per year.
Terry San Pietro, a bylaw enforcement officer, said the city notified Carron in August that they'd received information that her home had a secondary suite. He said she didn't opt to have an inspection, so the city assumed she had a suite and charged her.
"Under the zoning regulations, the bylaw specifies what each property is zoned for and what it may contain," he said. "It's not if it's rented or who's it rented to - it's having the second cooking facility."
Coun. Barinder Rasode estimated the city has 20,000 registered secondary suites - up from 14,400 in 2009 - and said it can be tasking to keep track of secondary suites based solely on if there is a renting tenant.
"It is very difficult for the city to be able to determine who is actually occupying the suite," said Rasode. "The most equitable way is that if there are two kitchen units in the home that the second home does designate having a suite."
Carron said she would sign a document promising never to rent out the suite to non-family members if the city's rules were changed to allow the stove. But Rasode said many other homeowners with suites may claim their tenants are family to avoid suite fees.
However, Rasode said the city could make some exceptions, such as nixing the requirement of having an off-street parking space for the tenant when, in Carron's case, her father-in-law is legally blind and won't be driving.
"We don't want to be unreasonable," said Rasode. "We do not rule with an iron fist at the City of Surrey when it comes to very specific consideration around extenuating circumstances."
Carron said she understands where the city is coming from with the bylaw, but she wishes the definition had a gray area. She isn't sure how to proceed and she just wants to do what's best for her father-in-law.
"He wants to be with his granddaughters," she said. "That's how he wants to spend the rest of his years."